This year’s complicated and difficult process to develop a state budget has inflicted disproportionate injury on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families. While the protracted negotiations continue, young graduates from our public schools have been forced to sit at home in state-imposed isolation, as there is no funding for the critical and longstanding Employment and Day Services program. As difficult as this has been, there is some reason for hope.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle have listened to our collective voice and have supported adequate funding for Employment and Day Services for individuals with I/DD. We are thankful that this critical program was a budget priority featured in both caucuses’ proposals. Although his budget is not yet in accord with both parties’ decisions to fund Employment and Day, the governor’s inclusion of money for badly needed system change (known as the “ID Partnership”), gives reason to believe that he will recognize the inherent and long term value of the services, and add his support to the positions taken by both parties. Moreover, the governor has repeatedly recognized that serving the I/DD community is a core government service.
Community participation, volunteering, and employment are the fundamental building blocks of independent identities, healthy relationships and strong communities. Across Connecticut, thousands of adults with I/DD participate in Employment and Day Services to learn skills, develop relationships, volunteer and work so that they can contribute to society.
These contributions occur in a wide variety of jobs and activities ranging from delivering Meals on Wheels to working for competitive wages (and paying taxes) in retail, food service, office and healthcare settings. According to the 2014 American Community Survey, among those states including and contiguous to Connecticut, our state and Rhode Island tied at 30.4 percent for the highest percentage of people with a cognitive disability employed. These programs work.
Funding these supports is vital so that young adults with I/DD can continue to build lives based on their abilities, rather than their disability. Under the current untenable situation, with three months without funding due to a lack of a signed budget, young people’s hard won skills acquired through their school age years are eroding—and they are regressing as they sit at home, isolated from the community that they have spent a lifetime working to join. The knock-on effect of the lack of these services is that, for many families, a parent may be forced to leave a job to stay at home to ensure the safety of their child.
A decision to stop the longstanding practice of funding Employment and Day Services for new graduates of Connecticut’s education systems would be a major, and regressive, change in direction for Connecticut in multiple ways. Our state would be the only state in the area to not fund these supports, clearly a comparative disadvantage in recruiting new employers in light of U.S. Census data that two out of seven families have a family member with a disability.
A decision to defund these services would effectively put a “Closed for New Business” sign on Connecticut’s Department of Developmental Services, denying critical services and supports for young people with I/DD just as they take their first steps into adulthood and adding yet another waiting list for DDS supports while continuing to fund expensive public residential settings, institutions and rampant public staff overtime.
In effect, it would be a declaration that Connecticut, with its abandonment of its most vulnerable citizens, has also abandoned its traditions of progressivism and inclusion for people with disabilities. Once a leader in this area, Connecticut would instead become the regional backwater.
As the budget process moves forward, we hope that all of Connecticut’s leaders will see the value of investing in supports that foster productivity and decrease dependency. A signed budget that includes Employment and Day Services, a proposal now supported by both parties, would help lessen the hardship and isolation being experienced by young adults with I/DD and their families, and ensure that, as Connecticut moves forward, we do not leave our most vulnerable behind to fend for themselves.
Win Evarts is Executive Director of The Arc of Connecticut, Inc., the oldest and largest advocacy organization for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in Connecticut, and also the father of a 27-year-old man with I/DD.